Perhaps the sweetest part of any Dia de los Muertos — or Day of the Dead — celebration is the inclusion of a sugar skull.
Saturday, members of Hispanics of Today and Tomorrow joined Sweet Granada Owner Kim Redeker and local artist Stephanie Achille to make their own sugar skulls and help prepare for classes which will be offered to the community in October.
Dia de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico along with Central and South America which honors loved ones who are no longer living. One of the most recognizable traditions of Dia de los Muertos is the building of an ofrenda — or offering — welcoming departed loved ones to an alter-like setting by putting out some of their favorite things while living.
Sally Sanchez, former president and current member of HOTT, said an example would be that her father loved peanuts while living, so she includes a bowl of them in her ofrenda to him on Dia de los Muertos.
"The sugar skull is a huge, huge piece of the celebration of Dia de los Muertos," Sanchez said. "It is meant to signify the celebration of the life of passed loved ones. In almost every ofrenda, you will always see a sugar skull."
The women of HOTT said though death is often looked at as a morbid and dark subject, there is nothing macabre about Dia de los Muertos or the sugar skulls. The ofrendas and celebrations themselves are often filled with vibrant colors to help celebrate those who have died.
As such, sugar skulls are exactly what they sound like — a small block of sugar shaped to look like a skull. They are then decorated brightly to help bring out the celebratory tone of the holiday.
"The skull is what brings that sweet tone to it," HOTT member Adela Maynez said while explaining the tradition. "It's sweet; it's nice; it's positive; it's friendly.
"It's a way to celebrate life and bring back fond memories."
Redeker said there will be sugar skulls available for purchase at the Sweet Granada throughout the month of October. She decided to get in on the Dia de los Muertos fun after experiencing Emporia's first official downtown celebration of the holiday in 2018.
She said October has always been a busy time of year at the Sweet Granada, with much of the focus being on Halloween. But when she saw how "the whole community — not just the Hispanic community" — embraced the celebration, she wanted to learn more and get involved.
"I saw it as an opportunity to educate the community and celebrate the Hispanic culture and its history here in Emporia," Redeker said.
Saturday's event was a test run, of sorts. Redeker and Achille are just learning to make sugar skulls themselves, but they plan to offer classes for the community to make their own in October. The members of HOTT were on hand for a private event to help prepare for those classes and to teach Redeker and Achille more about the tradition.
"We thought it would be fun to invite the people who were the inspiration behind and developed the Dia de los Muertos celebration here in Emporia, so we invited them for a private class," Redeker said. "It was also an opportunity for Stephanie and I to learn more about the history of the celebration and the meaning of sugar skulls."
On Saturday, the women of HOTT also painted a skull on a miniature canvas with Achille's help. She will be teaching classes at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday as well as on Oct. 19 during which participants will paint a skull for Dia de los Muertos on a 6-by-6-inch canvas.
Those interested in making sugar skulls can sign up for classes on Oct. 9 or Oct. 24. Redeker said those were just opened up on social media last week and were already filling up fast.
To register, call the Sweet Granada at 342-9600 or stop by the store at 803 Commercial St.
Sanchez thanked Redeker for offering the class to HOTT.
"This will be something I can keep forever and pass on to my grandchildren," she said.
On Oct. 26, the day of this year's Dia de los Muertos celebration, Achilles and Redeker will offer residents a chance to paint a mini canvas or decorate a chocolate sucker from 1 - 3 p.m. at the Emporia Main Street office, 727 Commercial St. Pre-registration is not required for the event.
Preparations for 2019's celebration have been going on practically since last year's came to a close, according to Sanchez. She said they didn't know how big it would be, but were overwhelmed by how much it was embraced by the community. It is safe to say, she said, that the second celebration will not be the last.
"It is here to stay," Sanchez said. "I've wanted to do this for the last seven years. To see it realized and for the community to embrace it like they have and come out and celebrate with us makes me so happy."